The Naval Architect: September 2019
Maritime application of the Internet of Things (IoT) was, for a long time, filed in the column of ‘nice ideas’. The problem being that onboard connectivity has traditionally been so poor and erratic it simply wasn’t practical to attempt to transfer Big Data to or from a vessel. In fact, the closest most ships got to IoT was the handwritten Noon Report.
For equipment and engine manufacturers it’s represented a significant obstacle to realising the vision of continuous, condition-based monitoring, analytics and maintenance. But for marine communications services provider KVH it provided food for thought.
Best known as an antennae manufacturer and the largest VSAT operator in shipping, it launched AgilePlans in 2017, a connectivity-as-a-service model. Whereas traditionally a shipowner or manager might pay tens of thousands for an antenna, or acquire it on a long-term lease, they could now purchase an antenna, airtime, warranty, shipping and installation for one monthly fee.
“It’s basically like you have on your broadband at home but on a higher sale,” explains Mark Woodhead, KVH’s executive vice president, mobile connectivity. “We saw sales goes up 100% in a year and it now makes up 77% of our business. It’s been massively successful and we’ve hardly seen any returns. There’s no commitment and if you want more or less data you step up or down to a different package.”
AgilePlans’ success inspired KVH to take a closer look at IoT. “As we’re a manufacturer we decided to do some testing, installing antennae onboard vessels and maintaining them. So, for the last 12 months we’ve been taking 150 data points in real time from our equipment, running it on algorithms on an edge server and then transmitting the results back.”
The results of the performance analysis helped inform KVH’s product development and Woodhead says it made a huge difference to the business. It seemed a logical step to start offering this new IoT service to shipowners in much the same manner as had proven so fruitful with AgilePlans, but then came a surprise.
“When we started talking to [the shipowners] we discovered they were really not that bothered,” Woodhead reveals. “They were far less interested in the performance of the equipment than the equipment providers themselves. We realised we were being stupid about it. As a manufacturer we’d seen the benefits of using the product to look after our equipment, so why not turn the idea around and sell it to the manufacturers?”
By combining the business model of connectivity as a service with the IoT solution it had been using on its own antennae, KVH developed KVH Watch. The solution allows equipment manufacturers to support their onboard products with secure IoT connectivity for remote monitoring and real-time intervention.
“Equipment manufacturers have all had the same problem: they’re desperate for the data but couldn’t afford the cost of an antenna to get it off the vessel. We will get several tenants for the same antenna and they will each pay a monthly fee. It will include Watch Flow, which is a dedicated bandwidth for machine-to-machine data delivery, and this will send from the manufacturer’s onboard edge device to their own platform or cloud-based system.”
One of the first customers for the new service is Kongsberg. Announced at Nor-Shipping, KVH will act as a “connectivity partner” for Kongsberg’s Vessel Insight digital platform. “Kongsberg are a classic example of an equipment manufacturer who need to provide remote vessel support for a variety of reasons, such as resolving problems and performing maintenance checks. It costs around US$5,000 to send a skilled technician out to a vessel, so it’s very expensive.”
Another area where IoT connectivity could prove highly significant is resolving arguments about warranty claims; what is the cause when a piece of equipment breaks down and, in some cases, who is to blame. “It’s becoming a massive issue for P&I clubs and until now there’s been no data to support it,” says Woodhead.
KVH Watch is still in its early days and the next phase will be to forge partnerships with the key equipment manufacturers. “If you take engine manufacturers, for example, there are some very big players out there, all of whom have the same problem.
“What’s fascinating is that everybody needs data, even boiler operators, but nobody’s been able to do anything with the sensors because of connectivity. Vessels have been like remote islands, but I think over the next year or so we’ll see massive changes.”